In my never-ending quest of searching for technology that packs a powerful punch while maintaining minimalistic sizes, I am always excited to see the latest and greatest from any manufacturer who has something great on the table.
I recently had the opportunity to test out the latest Intel NUC Serpent Canyon, Intel’s compact gaming/productivity line of desktop computers. Boasting one of Intel’s latest I7 12th Gen processors and new Intel ARC GPUs, needless to say, I was thrilled to see what this compact powerhouse had to offer. Starting at $1669.00 USD, there are certainly much cheaper options on the market, but few offer such a compact size. The unit I was reviewing came out to be just over $1900.
Intel NUC Serpent Canyon Unboxing/Contents:
Looking inside the box, our unit did not have anything too exciting to unbox. After removing the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon itself, also included was the rather large external 330W power supply, the standard wall plug, an Allen Key to remove the top of the casing and swappable faceplates for the RGB lighting (More details on that later).
In some pictures, I have seen different stands that can be used to make the system take up less space on a desk. However, our unit did not come with one. Despite the power supply being rather large in size, if set up correctly, I can’t imagine the power supply getting in the way of anything in most cases.
Intel NUC Serpent Canyon Hardware:
Taking a look around at the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon, I was immediately blown away to see just how compact of a system it was. Measuring approximately 9.1” wide by 7.1” wide and 2.4” tall, it wouldn’t be completely out of the question for users to want to bring the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon with them from the office to home.
In terms of IO, Intel has jammed a wide variety of ports to ensure users have the capability to hook up all peripherals they may require. On the front, you can find 2 USB 3.2 type A ports, along with a Thunderbolt 4 port, full-size SDXC card slot and a headphone jack. This is also where you can find the SSD activity light and power button. Along both the left and right sides, there are several vent openings to help keep the system cool.
On the back of the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon is where things get very interesting. You can find an additional 4 USB 3.2 type A ports, an additional Thunderbolt 4 port, a Kensington lock slot, 2 full-size DisplayPort 2.0 inputs, a 2.5GB ethernet jack, a secondary headphone/microphone jack and even an HDMI 2.1 port!
Similar to how Dell and Alienware allow buyers to configure their systems to meet their needs, Intel also allows buyers to spec out their systems in a variety of ways. Buyers can configure their system with up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM, a whopping 3 NVME SSD drives of up to 8TB each, their choice of Ubuntu or Windows 10 or 11 versions and various accessory and warranty options.
The configuration I was given to test had an Intel I7-12700H, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVME PCIE SSD. All models come with a built-in Intel AX1690i Wifi 6E card, also supporting Bluetooth 5.2. Far from the top model but certainly respectable for the average user.
Intel NUC Serpent Canyon Day-to-Day Usage/Benchmarks:
Using the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon in casual day-to-day tasks such as browsing the web, replying and reading emails etc., I rarely ever heard a noise from the system. In both normal and low power mode, the whole system was completely silent, producing only 34 dB of noise. This can be great for those who require minimal noise when working or completing tasks for school. With its minimal size, it could easily hide in almost any desk setup making for more workspace on a generally small work desk.
“…the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon with its Intel ARC A770M easily crushed everything I threw at it with ease.”
While running benchmarks, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon with its Intel ARC A770M easily crushed everything I threw at it with ease. Running the latest version of CineBench, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon was able to deliver a solid result of 17000 points in Multicore tests and 1771 points in Single-core tests. In the FurMark benchmark, again, the Serpent Canyon delivered an impressive result of 8691 points at 1080p with an average framerate of 145FPS! Results were equally impressive, scoring 2253 points in single-core and 11245 in multi-core tests.
Given the NUC’s small form factor, I was thoroughly pleased with the results, and I feel it should be adequate for the average user. The whole time the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon was benchmarking and running various tests, it rarely got much noisier than 49-50db, a quitter result than my Asus Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop running similar tests. Fan noise was still audible, though still well managed and controlled by Intel’s own software.
Intel NUC Serpent Canyon Gaming Benchmarks:
Playing modern AAA games, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon gave a solid result for the size and specs of the system. Maxing settings out Fortnite was a walk in the park for the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon as it delivered an average of 71.1FPS on all parts of the map making for a truly incredible time while playing. When I tried to max out settings while playing American Truck Simulator with several mods enabled, the NUC would continue to taunt me as if it were saying, “Is that the best you’ve got?”.
Running at an average rate of 117.9FPS, the game was barely a challenge. GTA 5 is yet another game I enjoy, and even that would not slow down this beast of a system, running the game at over 50FPS as well. The only time I was able to push the Intel NUC to its limits truly was running BeamNG Drive. The game is taxing on most systems as it requires plenty of RAM to run properly, 16GB being the bare minimum recommended for running the game.
That said, with all settings maxed out, it ran at approximately 36.4FPS, topping out at 45.2FPS. All games tested were run at full settings at a resolution of 1080p. Overall, Intel’s ARC A770M graphic performed respectably in the games I tested. I do believe with a little more RAM, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon could be able to get a much more playable rate, although adjusting settings could also deliver a better result for the budget-oriented user.
Intel NUC Serpent Canyon Additional Features:
A rather cool feature Intel has added to the Serpent Canyon is the addition of adding customizable RGB zones. Users have the option of changing the colour in 3 separate areas, the power button, SSD activity light and a zone on top of the case. The zone on top of the case, by default, has Intel’s skull logo on it and is printed on a plate that goes below the top cover.
Users can likely choose to create their own custom plate to have a company logo or whatever they desire, based on extra plates that came included with my review unit. Unfortunately, the customizability of the RGB is primarily limited to just solid colours, and the patterns available to the zones are basic flash patterns. Personally, I’d potentially like to see a little more flexibility with lighting options, such as a rainbow glow pattern for some of the zones to fit the look of the other RGB in my PC gaming setup.
“…with some simple upgrades, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon would be able to play all my games without much effort.”
To conclude, I thoroughly believe that Intel has delivered a pleasantly impressive package with their latest NUC Serpent Canyon. It was easily able to fit on my desk while maintaining a truly minimal form factor, taking up not much more space than a medium-sized takeout food container. The port selection was absolutely phenomenal, giving me the freedom to attach all my peripherals and more without needing a hub to expand my options.
While some of my games proved to be a challenge for the system, I believe with some simple upgrades, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon would be able to play all my games without much effort. The customizable RGB options and swappable faceplate allow users to make their system theirs and look unique amongst other computers. Given the heftier price tag, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon is a tougher sell when other conventional-sized systems can be spec’d with higher-end hardware for less or similar costs. But for those users, like me, who prefer form factor and aren’t afraid to pay the price for it, the Intel NUC Serpent Canyon is tough not to love.